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Would ‘Rexit’ Mean First Step Toward War With Iran?

If reports are correct that Rex Tillerson is going to be fired as U.S. Secretary of State, to be replaced by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, with Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton taking Pompeo’s old job, then prospects for war with Iran become significantly greater. Tillerson has been less bellicose in his attitude toward Iran than either Pompeo or Cotton, who are both fervid critics of President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, and ardent advocates of getting the United States back onto a collision course with the Islamic State.

The New York Times [1]on Thursday quoted “senior administration sources” as saying White House chief of staff John Kelly had crafted such a shake-up in President Trump’s foreign policy team, though it wasn’t clear whether President Trump had signed off on it. If he does, as is likely, expect the administration to go after Iran aggressively.

For context, here’s a little history. Back in late 2006, major officials of the George W. Bush administration, including Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, strongly advocated a U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear capability. According to Time writer Joe Klein, Bush rejected the idea on the advice of his top military advisers, who argued that the Islamic State could devastate U.S. forces in nearby Iraq in retaliation, and also unleash a possibly effective terrorist war against Americans. The president opted instead for a covert destabilization campaign, a plan that soon leaked to the media.

But the idea never died among some “neoconservative” administration officials, and it was fueled further by agitated voices from outside the country, notably from Israel and Saudi Arabia. An internal memo dated April 2008, released by Wikileaks in 2010, referred to repeated exhortations from Saudi King Abdullah that the United States should “cut off the head of the snake”—meaning destroy the Iranian regime that was Saudi Arabia’s most troubling regional adversary. It had become all the more powerful and menacing in the region, of course, through Bush’s invasion of Iraq and destruction of that nation’s Sunni leadership. Now that country fell under the sway of its Shia majority, rendering it more receptive to an alignment with Iran. The regional balance of power was upended. So now King Abdullah wanted Bush to double down and initiate a military adventure in Iran similar to the one that had created the hopeless mess in Iraq.

That sentiment was echoed by Israel, which suggested in diplomatic discussions that, if the United States shied away from such an action, Israel might adopt a go-it-alone strategy, which of course inevitably would have elicited a strong Iranian response and likely drawn the United States into a war with Iran.

There was a lot of war talk in those days, and it was never clear that Bush would resist the call from neoconservatives to end Iran’s nuclear program and curtail its regional sway through military action.

Then in late November 2007 came news that the U.S. intelligence apparatus had issued a National Intelligence Estimate saying that Iran actually had abandoned its nuclear weapons ambitions back in 2003, though it still wanted to develop a nuclear capacity for nonmilitary energy uses. Said the NIE: “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.” This served to curtail Bush’s range of action, and he wasn’t pleased. As he later wrote: “NIE had a big impact—and not a good one.”

That was the state of play when Barack Obama became president in 2009 and promptly adopted a new approach to the Iranian challenge. Opting for diplomacy, he joined with five other world powers (Russia, France, China, Germany, and the UK) in an effort to craft a framework that would include the lifting of crippling economic sanctions on Iran in return for curtailments in the country’s nuclear energy program and assurances that Iran would eschew any nuclear weapons development for 10 years. The deal, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was Obama’s greatest foreign policy achievement.  


Republicans hated it. During the GOP nomination battles, most of the candidates declared they would “tear up the deal on day one.” Trump avoided such language, but he called the deal “disastrous” and one of the dumbest diplomatic agreements ever. He vowed to dismantle it. And yet he couldn’t quite bring himself to do that when it came time for him to either certify or decline to certify that Iran had been complying with the agreement. In mid-October, he declined to certify Iranian compliance (though the UN agency that monitors such matters had declared that Iran was in compliance). But he also declined to resume sanctions against Iran and kicked the question over to Congress.

According to The New York Times, one of the leading voices within the administration urging Trump to keep the deal intact was Rex Tillerson. The Times said that Tillerson, along with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, “argued that it was in the national security interest of the United States to keep the deal’s constraints on Iran.”

But now Tillerson may be on the way out, and the big winner if he actually is fired will be Jared Kushner, Trump’s 36-year-old son-in-law, who holds a plethora of titles: senior adviser to the president; deputy national security adviser for strategy; and special representative for international negotiations. If Tillerson gets fired, Kushner almost surely will have been one of the leading voices advocating such a move. He and Tillerson have been adversaries within the administration since the beginning.

What’s more, Kushner has strong ties to the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (known informally as MbS), who is emerging as the most powerful Saudi of them all. As a senior Middle East diplomat told TAC’s Mark Perry the other day, [2] “Kushner and MbS aren’t just close, they’re very, very close.” King Abdullah may be gone, but the Saudis still want America to cut off the head of the snake. And whenever the crown prince talks, Kushner listens very intently. And, by all accounts, whenever Kushner talks, his father-in-law listens intently.

Unlike Kushner, Tillerson manifested frustration with some of the more outlandish activities of the Saudi crown prince, most notably his diplomatic aggressiveness against the little kingdom of Qatar and his brutalization of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in an effort to get Hariri to resign his office—which he did after being summoned by bin Salman to Riyadh for a thorough dressing down. (He later indicated he might reverse the decision.) But according to reports, Tillerson hasn’t been frustrated just with the Saudis and their allies, the United Arab Emirates, but also with Kushner, whom he suspects of conducting his own foreign policy from inside the White House—sometimes, it seems, with an eye toward Saudi interests.

It’s reasonable to suspect he holds even more tender feelings toward Israel. He grew up in a religious home strongly devoted to the Jewish state, and his family has given millions of dollars to Israel, including some devoted to Jewish settlements on the West Bank. When he was a teenager and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to visit, the Israeli leader slept in Jared Kushner’s bedroom, while the teenager occupied another room in the house. He has visited Israel regularly since childhood and “holds strong views about the state of Israel,” wrote The New York Times in an article about Kushner’s close ties to the country. The paper added those ties are “personal and religious.”

All this is entirely understandable. But the question is what kind of counterweight will emerge in the Trump administration to urge caution in U.S. relations with Iran at a time when both Israel and Saudi Arabia want America to take on the Iranian regime.

It won’t come from Pompeo or Cotton if they ascend to the positions they seem to be headed for. Pompeo has been described as a “fierce critic” of the Iran deal, and a recent headline in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz declared: “Mike Pompeo has a Hawkish History on Israel and Iran.” Cotton, one of the most vociferous neoconservatives in Congress, has urged U.S. actions to bring about regime change in Iran through covert activity, and he has argued that actual military action against the regime should be considered a serious option.

If personnel determine policy, as has been said, then these moves, if they occur, will drive the United States into a posture of increasing bellicosity toward Iran and a strong likelihood that Trump eventually will end America’s commitment to the nuclear deal. If that happens, we’ll be back to the war talk that filled the air back in the Bush years—with growing prospects that it might not be just all talk.

Robert W. Merry, longtime Washington, D.C., journalist, author and publishing executive, is editor of The American Conservative. His latest book, President McKinley: Architect of the American Century [3], was released in November.



33 Comments (Open | Close)

33 Comments To "Would ‘Rexit’ Mean First Step Toward War With Iran?"

#1 Comment By Whine Merchant On December 1, 2017 @ 12:30 am

In this era of zombie television shows, the Hollywood caricature occupant of the White House may want to bring in Dick Cheney as his own walking dead, to promote another war in the mid-east. After all, those retirement investments in Halliburton would just grow in value, and no one in either his family nor Trump’s would be sent to fight.

And they will get yet another smile from Bibi and AIPAC.

#2 Comment By due diligence On December 1, 2017 @ 12:47 am

The description of Kushner’s relationship with Israel really creeps me out. It should be a source of deep concern to every American. This man shouldn’t be anywhere near our government, still less privy to our Middle East policy, and even less than that actually making US Middle East policy.

Is it true that Kushner has dual citizenship? In my day that alone would have been reason to flunk him on a national security background check.

#3 Comment By SteveK9 On December 1, 2017 @ 7:27 am

‘Islamic State’ in 2006?

#4 Comment By PAX On December 1, 2017 @ 8:45 am

In 2003 Patrick Buchanan wrote in TAC “Whose war?” in identifying why we really invaded Iraq. His logic can readily be transferred to nearly every military engagement we have been involved in since and possibly many before 2003. Jared Kushner represents the point of the Israeli spear. A self-centered spear that decimates anyone who opposes. What can the average citizen do to protect against this monetarization of our foreign policy? Our military has become the play toy of a very foreign and uncompromising theocracy. Depressing.

#5 Comment By CJ On December 1, 2017 @ 9:18 am

Wow, it’s hard to believe that TAC would publish something that says, effectively, well, if Kusner et al win on this and we disavow the travesty of the Iran Nuclear deal, it means war with Iran. We heard that consistently from the previous administration and all of its media allies in the lie-driven run up to jamming this deal down our country’s throats.

I am certainly not a fan of the idea of pushing Tillerson out but, wow! Were we at war with Iran prior to this deal. Were we headed there?

#6 Comment By Kurt Gayle On December 1, 2017 @ 9:24 am

Bring back Philip Giraldi.

#7 Comment By Michael Kenny On December 1, 2017 @ 10:39 am

I tend to see Trump as a do-nothing president, saying everything and the contrary of everything but then doing nothing. He’ll bluff and bluster against Iran as he’s doing with North Korea but will do nothing. Israeli influence in US politics is indeed a big factor but Trump himself is very strongly pro-Israel, so I don’t think he needs any pushing from Kelly, Pompeo or Cotton.

#8 Comment By Hexexis On December 1, 2017 @ 11:36 am

Read a bit more of the Haaretz & we see that ol’ Bibi there’s even more disabled than Pres. Trump is here: Israeli parliament certainly works more quickly than our Congress, because according to recent Haaretz columns, it’s passing legislation just to shield the P.M. from arrest & prosecution.

Bellicosity v. Iran may pale compared w/ the one-upsmanship practiced by Israeli & U.S. chief executives in the corruption-&-graft dept.

#9 Comment By PAX On December 1, 2017 @ 12:15 pm

Kurt Gayle
Bring back Philip Giraldi

I agree and do it immediately. We need the truth undiluted

#10 Comment By liberal On December 1, 2017 @ 12:19 pm

CJ wrote,

We heard that consistently from the previous administration and all of its media allies in the lie-driven run up to jamming this deal down our country’s throats.

“Our country’s”? Are you writing from Israel or Saudi Arabia?

#11 Comment By Chris in Appalachia On December 1, 2017 @ 12:37 pm

Another vote for Mr. Giraldi’s return.

“And they will get yet another smile from Bibi and AIPAC.”

It’s not their smile that is desired, it is their donations.

I hope the world knows that there’s nothing left for Americans to do to avoid a senseless war with Iran. We have tried three times to vote for change, and can’t pull it off because our government has been hijacked. Sadly, this war seems predestined to happen. It’s a shame.

#12 Comment By Mark Thomason On December 1, 2017 @ 12:45 pm

It would be a step toward war with Iran, and Korea. However, it would be far from the first step. We are on those roads, quite blatantly so. Trump’s apologists suggest it is a bluff, but don’t deny it.

#13 Comment By H. On December 1, 2017 @ 12:50 pm

Bring back Philip Giraldi.

Terminating him was a rushed decision.

#14 Comment By Kia On December 1, 2017 @ 1:38 pm

Bring back Philip Giraldi

#15 Comment By collin On December 1, 2017 @ 2:16 pm

+1…I tend to see Trump as a do-nothing president, saying everything and the contrary of everything but then doing nothing.

For big items, Trump does not like expend political capital on the endeavors be it health care or foreign policy. This is much like his business where he invested less of his money and focused on selling the name Trump. So he will send a bombing expedition to Syria or 1K more troops to Niger type of stuff. (Tax cut is borderline give away and not handle well.) And he will not likely invade Iran as it will not be popular.

So he has loudly decided Iran is not in compliance of the prior awful nuclear deal but makes no real policy changes. So I think the bigger concern is:
1) Saudia Arabia continues their aggressive military maneuvers in the Middle East and against Iran. (The Yemen war, Syria, Lebanon, etc. have been Cold War type choices against Iran.)
2) Continue to build relationships with Trump, Israel and other Mid East allies. (Insert globe picture here.)
3) Saudia continues to move allies against Iran. This does not mean a war but it increases chances significantly. (So call it Europe in 1910 but we can still change history.)

#16 Comment By EarlyBird On December 1, 2017 @ 4:47 pm

How tragic. There has probably never been a better target for “kill them with kindness” than the Iranian leadership. Their entire power inside Iran is based on the idea that the “Great Satan” wants to destroy them. It’s the very reason they tried to go nuclear to begin with. Every rattle of our saber strengthens them and their grip on power, and every bit of diplomacy and respect towards them make them weaker.

I still am just agog that we have aligned ourselves with the Saudis and other Sunni powers – the sinister and true source of anti-American hatred throughout so much of that part of the world – while making an enemy of Iran which is light years ahead of any other local nation, aside from Israel.

Types like Cotton would call an attempt at a very long rapprochement with Iran “naive,” as if the idea that we could just bomb our way to a clean victory over Iran is anything but a reckless fantasy.

God help us.

#17 Comment By Frankie P On December 1, 2017 @ 6:56 pm

Bring back Philip Giraldi. Admitting a mistake by righting it is the mark of a rational actor; if you profess to be the realist voice of the American conservative, you owe it to your readership and yourselves to correct this glaring error.

#18 Comment By colluders On December 1, 2017 @ 9:15 pm

If the reports I’m seeing are correct, it looks like Kushner was colluding with Israel when he ordered Flynn to contact the Russians.

Basically, Netanyahu asked Kushner to tell Flynn to get the Russians to delay the UN Security Council vote that condemned Israel for building settlements in the West Bank. Netanyahu wanted it delayed because he apparently had word that Obama was going to abstain from the vote.

So it was Kushner colluding with the Israelis against the US government.

So, assuming all this is in fact true, we’ve got a case of meddling as well as one of collusion. But the meddling and collusion were with Israel, not Russia.

Not what I expected when I voted for Trump, that’s for sure. What a disappointment he turned out to be.

#19 Comment By mf On December 1, 2017 @ 10:23 pm

whenever Republicans come to power, two things happen: war and recession. This time around, we may just get a depression which may just finally break that hyperventilating military back of America.

#20 Comment By Common Sense On December 1, 2017 @ 11:13 pm

— who argued that the “Islamic State” could devastate U.S. —

Its been the Islamic Republic for 40 years and has had elections the entirety of that time which is more than what can be said of “moderate” Arab allies

#21 Comment By faris mee On December 2, 2017 @ 12:55 am

Copy/paste from above story –

Then in late November 2007 came news that the U.S. intelligence apparatus had issued a National Intelligence Estimate saying that Iran actually had abandoned its nuclear weapons ambitions back in 2003, though it still wanted to develop a nuclear capacity for nonmilitary energy uses. Said the NIE: “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.”

#22 Comment By June Cassidy On December 2, 2017 @ 8:50 am

Phil Giraldi is certainly needed to get to the substance of Israeli/Neocon activities and influence within the U.S. Government. His writing is “reality” versus the Middle East propaganda presented in U.S. media. Some organization should publish his collected articles. It may become a “best seller” in the U.S. and world wide!

#23 Comment By rick On December 2, 2017 @ 11:28 am

Commentators here are saying Philip Giraldi was terminated. Is that true? If so, you have made a huge mistake. Phil spoke the truth, something that’s rare these days.

#24 Comment By blackhorse On December 2, 2017 @ 2:41 pm

Same old GOP. Hawks and tax cuts and deficit spending. Not only are there no moderates, there are no small govt libertarians. Only oligarchic globalists.

#25 Comment By Youknowho On December 2, 2017 @ 3:11 pm

I guess we do not have to worry about the son-in-law anymore, thanks to Mueller.

Churchill was said to admire Mussolini because he had had the guts to shoot his son-in-law…

#26 Comment By Mary Myers On December 2, 2017 @ 4:20 pm

Since Flynn was actually working to help Netanyahu, I expect his punishment for lying to the FBI will be very light and probably commuted by President Pence.

#27 Comment By PAX On December 2, 2017 @ 4:45 pm

colluders say “it was Kushner colluding with the Israelis against the U.S. government.” Good point. Pollard is out and the Walkers remain in custody, as they should. So should Pollard. Why not? We know the answer. Bring back, Philip Giraldi. He is a fierce and unequivocal defender of this country. No dual citizen there. Only Israel and Saudi Arabia benefit from Mr. Giraldi’s removal from TAC. And all the American lives his truths will save. Why did you chicken out with Phil G?

#28 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On December 2, 2017 @ 4:45 pm

Giraldi, prophet without honor. Honor him.

#29 Comment By Deus X. Nihilo On December 2, 2017 @ 5:49 pm

A rich Jewish family like the Kushners have long had strong pro-Israeli connections and sympathies? Gosh, careful there. Saying such things could get a fella fired from his job.

#30 Comment By simpatico On December 3, 2017 @ 5:35 pm

+1 for bringing back Phil Giraldi. He’s fought the good fight and should be returned to TAC, where he belongs.

#31 Comment By Kurt Gayle On December 6, 2017 @ 1:40 pm

Philip Giraldi offers this timely addition to this discussion:

“Russiagate Becomes Israelgate — Who was corrupting the American political system?”


#32 Comment By Mary Myers On December 6, 2017 @ 10:43 pm

By all means TAC should apologize to Phil Giraldi and bring back his columns.

#33 Comment By Kurt Gayle On December 7, 2017 @ 10:40 am

Mary Myers writes: “By all means TAC should apologize to Phil Giraldi and bring back his columns.”

Indeed! After all, the various books written by leading TAC staff members have now been published by major publishing companies and those same books have now been reviewed by major reviewers.

Time for TAC to do the right thing.